Rising Paralytic Shellfish Poison Levels Prompt Beach Closures in Pierce County

October 24, 2023

On September 21, 2023, the Washington State Department of Health issued the first beach closure in Pierce County due to high levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP). PSP, a toxin produced by certain algae, can be harmful when consumed. Beach closures due to this toxin have been reported throughout the Puget Sound since mid-August, and this year’s occurrence has been particularly severe. Communities for a Healthy Bay (CHB) has been diligently tracking the spread of PSP and urges the public to understand the associated risks and reasons behind these closures.

Paralytic Shellfish Poison Explained

Paralytic Shellfish Poison is a biotoxin naturally produced by certain species of algae. Shellfish and other filter feeders can accumulate this toxin when they consume the algae. Subsequently, animals that feed on these shellfish, such as crabs, can also become toxic. The levels of this toxin can fluctuate rapidly, making it crucial to stay informed with the most current and up-to-date information.

Why is it dangerous?

Cooking shellfish does not remove or neutralize PSP. Moreover, there is no antidote for severe poisoning, so victims have to wait for toxins to eliminate naturally from their bodies. Eating contaminated shellfish can affect the central nervous system, causing temporary paralysis and even death. In severe cases where chest paralysis occurs, life support systems like respirators and oxygen must be used to keep victims alive. Tragically, there are cases of death from PSP occurring in less than 30 minutes. It is important to note that symptoms of PSP can occur within minutes or even up to two hours after consumption. These symptoms include:

  • Tingling of the lips, tongue, fingers and toes
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of control of arms and legs
  • Sense of floating

Shellfish Safely

  • Check the Washington Department of HealthShellfish Safety Map and List of Beach Closures by County immediately before harvesting shellfish. Toxin levels can change quickly and there can be several beach closures throughout the day when there is frequent testing.
  • Contact the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department at (253) 649-1420 ext. 7 for up-to-date information on local beach closures due to pollution or toxins.
  • Don’t consider a beach or harvesting area safe just because you don’t see a Toxic Shellfish Warning Sign. Signs might be missing or damaged. Always try to verify the current status online.
  • Review the Shellfish Harvest Planner to plan safer fishing trips.
  • Educate others – share this Fact Sheet or Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning Handout with your community and other fishers to make sure they understand the risks and strategies for safe fishing.
  • Seek emergency medical attention immediately. If you notice symptoms of poisoning, call your healthcare provider. If you notice more severe/worsening symptoms (loss of feeling or control in limbs), call 911 or have someone take you to the nearest emergency room.

PSP Updates and Educational Resources